NHL drama off to a good start

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:48 AM ET

For a team that boasted two of the top four and three of the 15 highest scorers in the NHL this season, the Canucks took the first game of their playoff series against the defending champs largely because of the solid work by the guy in their net.

Oh, and his two best friends.

Four Chicago Blackhawks shots hit posts and bounced to safety while another 32 were steered away by Roberto Luongo in a 2-0 shutout that allowed Vancouver to hold serve.

The Canucks struck a couple of pipes themselves, but they have to know this one could have gone either way - just like the pucks that went “ding” behind their star ‘tender.

“It doesn’t mean much right now, it’s a long series,” Luongo told Hockey Night in Canada’s Scott Oake, who had asked him about the importance of taking Game 1. “In the prior two (playoff series against the 'Hawks) we won the first, too. We know they’ll come back harder. We have to be ready to play.”

The 'Hawks, of course, eliminated Vancouver the last couple of times the teams have met in the post-season.

That they won the President’s Trophy means little now to the Canucks, who could have let home ice advantage slip away if Luongo had not made a spectacular save off Brian Campbell late in the first period.

“Probably the best one of the night,” he admitted of the stop.

Should the Canucks drop Game 2, the province of B.C. could turn into a state - of panic.

“It’s almost comical how passionate everybody is,” defencman Kevin Bieska told Oake about the expectations in Vancouver. He went on to say some fans spotted him outside the rink a couple of hours prior to the game and asked him if he shouldn’t be inside.

“I’m on my way,” he told them. “Relax.”

Bieska’s message to the fans:

“I hate to break it to you guys (but) I don’t think we’re going to sweep our way to the Stanley Cup final,” he said. “There will be some bumps along the way, but we can handle it.”

Especially if they keep getting that kind of work from Luongo and his friends.

Point shots

While the 2011 NHL playoffs opened with a bang on five fronts, what better way to capture the attention of the casual audience than for one of its episodes to turn into an overtime game? There’s nothing more exciting than sudden death hockey that isn’t limited by a five-minute clock. Henrik Lundqvist and Michal Neuvirth were stealing the show between the Rangers and Capitals, but scoring the winner for Washington at the 18:24 mark of the extra session was Alexander Semin. While many fans were hoping the dramatic night would turn into a marathon, it’s probably a good thing that it ended when it did.

“Pace yourself,” HNIC’s Ron MacLean said at the beginning of the evening. “This could go until June 17.”

Bring it on.

Starts and stops

Welcome to the NHL playoffs, Corey Crawford. How about 20 shots in your first period to celebrate getting here? .... Detroit coach Mike Babcock applauded his player, Todd Bertuzzi, for getting in a scrap with Rostislav Klesla. “That’s a good thing,” said Babcock. “It gets the crowd pumped up. I think that is the first fight in the playoffs the Red Wings have had in the six years I’ve been here.” ... What about the brashness of Capitals goalie Neuvirth before his first ever playoff game? “I think I can outplay anyone,” he said before going up against one of the game’s best goalies in Lundqvist. “I think our shooters are better than theirs.” It’s only damaging bulletin board material if you don’t back it up. He did ... Finally, it appears to be Nashville’s time. To win a playoff series, anyway ... Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant, especially in the early going when he kept the Penguins in the game. “Dominic Moore believed he scored,” HNIC broadcaster Dean Brown said when the Tampa forward prematurely raised his arms to celebrate during one goal mouth scramble. “And I believed Dominic Moore.”

Things I think I thunk

The league can deny all it wants, but this Coyotes-to-Winnipeg rumour just seems to have more teeth than the others ... Mike Fisher is the leading scorer after Night 1 of the playoffs. His wife is so proud she could sing ... Sid Crosby gets an assist in Game 1 even while wearing a suit. From the press box he was on a headset to the bench, helping coach as the Penguins' “eye-in-the-sky” ... Marty St. Louis had a double root canal after taking Zbynek Michalek’s stick in the chops. He expects to play in Game 2. I want to lie down after just typing double root canal ... Does anyone look less like a hockey player walking into a rink than Jiri Hudler, even without the bow tie? ... The Lightning are receiving inspirational messages and at least some form of coaching from assistant Wayne Fleming, who was back at the rink watching videos less than a week after having surgery to remove a brain tumor. And you thought Milan Lucic was tough ...

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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